No Thanks to Walmarting the Airline Industry

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By Lee Moak and Ed Wytkind

We just concluded a remarkable meeting in Oslo, Norway, with our labor counterparts in Europe to accelerate a campaign against flag of convenience airlines that seek to scour the globe for low labor standards and lax rules and regulations. We gathered in Norway to make the case against Norwegian Air International (NAI), which has designs on expanding service in Europe and to the United States using cockpit and cabin crew based in Thailand and covered under the labor laws of Singapore. We also came to Oslo to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with airline employees in Norway who face the real consequences of seeing one of their own major airlines evade its social obligations.

The Norwegian scheme not only threatens a high-road global aviation industry but it takes direct aim at middle-class airline jobs on both sides of the Atlantic. This operating scheme also violates both the spirit and the intent of the 2010 U.S.-EU Open Skies agreement that expanded aviation trade but expressly rejected any use of the expanded rights in this pact to “lower labor standards.” Clearly NAI fails on this test—in fact, the NAI operation as constructed today will undercut the high labor standards found in the U.S. and most of Europe by up to 50 percent.

Meanwhile, Norwegian has been putting on a clever media road show of late as it attempts to deflect criticism pointed at its business model. One day it says its opponents fear competition and the next day it promises robust job growth. Its strategy is focused entirely on one thing: obtaining government authority in Europe and the U.S. to launch this airline service. So it keeps rolling out new promises hoping the stench wears off. We’re still wondering why NAI just doesn’t hire more Norwegian airline employees to expand service and why it has to force its new hires (whether they are European or American) to be based in Bangkok and work under Singaporean individual employment contracts. NAI officials conveniently ignore those facts.

If Norwegian wants to have a conversation about fair competition, we’re all ears. But fair competition is not what this scheme is about. No, it is about a low-road airline business model that threatens high aviation standards in the U.S. and Europe and, yes, it violates the U.S.-EU Open Skies Agreement.

The U.S. and European labor movement spoke out today against Walmarting the airline industry and we committed to wage that fight together.

Capt. Lee Moak is the President of the Air Line Pilots Association, Intl.
Edward Wytkind is President of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO.

 

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